Should Ed Carpenter Focus Solely On ECR?

Posted in IndyCar on October 19, 2018 by Oilpressure

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This was an eventful week at Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR). After hinting that he was looking for a full-time ride for 2019, we learned on Monday that driver Jordan King would not be returning to the No.20 car of ECR for the non-ovals. The very next day, it announced that Ed Jones would be taking over that ride for the non-ovals as well as a third car (No.64) in the Indianapolis 500, through an arrangement with Scuderia Corsa. Ed Carpenter will continue to contest all of the ovals in the No.20 car, including the 2019 Indianapolis 500; while Spencer Pigot will drive the No.21 entry in all seventeen races on the 2019 schedule.

Ed Carpenter has utilized a similar arrangement since 2014, when he dropped the road and street courses from his schedule and essentially declared himself an oval specialist. Back then it made sense. Ed was coming off a season where he had done very well on the ovals and even finished second in the 2013 season finale at Fontana.

Mike Conway was one season removed from leaving AJ Foyt Enterprises one race early in 2012, after he decided he no longer wanted to race ovals after his horrifying crash on the last lap of the 2010 Indianapolis 500. It seemed to be the perfect match. They had one driver who only wanted to drive ovals, and another who wanted to drive everything but ovals.

The pairing of Carpenter and Conway produced three wins in 2014 and one more podium. Conway won at Long Beach and Toronto, while carpenter won at Texas, had a third at Fontana along with a fifth at Iowa. But a closer look shows that those were the only bright spots for either driver. Other than the two wins, Conway’s best finish was an eleventh, and most finishes were around fourteenth or worse. Along with those three good finishes for Carpenter, his other three oval finishes were twenty-seventh at Indianapolis, thirteenth at Pocono and ninth at Milwaukee.

That season and this past season may have been the two best performances with the split No.20 car. Those in between have been somewhat of a train wreck.

The next season was the lone year for Carpenter Fisher Racing (CFH), when Carpenter merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR). From the outside, it looked more like a takeover by Carpenter. They used Sarah’s new building, but used Ed’s Chevy engines. SFHR driver Josef Newgarden came with the deal and had his best season to date. He won two races and finished seventh in the championship. Carpenter partnered with Luca Filippi in the split arrangement. In six races, Ed had two Top-Ten finishes, but had three finishes of twenty-second or worse. Filippi had five Top-Ten finishes, with one being a second-place finish at Toronto.

By the next season, the name above the door that once said Sarah Fisher Racing and CFH, now simply said Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden was still with the team and finished fourth in the championship and won one more race. Carpenter was now splitting time with Spencer Pigot for the 2016 season. It wasn’t pretty. Pigot’s top finishes were a ninth at Road America and a seventh at Mid-Ohio. In five races, the best finish Ed carpenter could manage was eighteenth at Iowa and Texas. The other finishes were in the twenties and thirties. Ouch!

For 2017, Newgarden had moved on to the greener pastures of Team Penske where he proceeded to win the 2017 season championship. JR Hildebrand moved into the full-time No.21 vacated by Newgarden. Hildebrand had two Top-Ten finishes which happened to be podiums, but faltered in the majority of other races and was let go at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Carpenter split time again with Pigot with slightly better results than the prior year. Pigot had two Top-Tens in the No.20 car, while Ed improved to a seventh, two eleventh and two twelfth place finishes in six races.

This past season Pigot had moved into the fulltime ride. His first half of the season was abysmal, with no finish better than tenth, with four worse than fourteenth and three worse than twentieth. But something happened to Pigot in the second half of the season. He had four Top-Ten finishes in the last eight races, one being a second at Iowa. Carpenter had four Top-Ten finishes in his six races, one being a second in the Indianapolis 500. He split time with Jordan King, who never finished higher than eleventh on the non-ovals.

For the 2019 season, it will be Spencer Pigot back in the full-time No.21; with Carpenter splitting time with Ed Jones. I’ve let my opinion be known on Ed Jones many times before, so I’ll not beat that dead horse again. Let’s just say I’ve always thought he was overrated and I predicted early this past season that his time with Ganassi would be very short lived. So I was not too surprised when he was replaced with Felix Rosenqvist a few weeks ago.

But my question is…how long will Ed Carpenter continue this split arrangement with the No.20 car? It’s one of the perks in owning your own team. You can call the shots and do whatever you want to do when your name is over the door. So am I asking should Ed Carpenter turn his car over to another driver and run two full car teams and himself in the Indianapolis 500? No. It’s his team and he should do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to run ovals until he is sixty-five years old, that’s his call.

But if you’re asking me what makes the most sense to me, or what I would do if I were a winning driver that owned a team – I think I might do something different than what Ed is currently doing.

With no oval before the Indianapolis 500 next season, it seems to me that next season would have been a good time for Ed Carpenter to focus on his race team and let two drivers have the reins full-time, while he pilots a third car for the Indianapolis 500. ECR is a good team. They’ve shown that in the past and they showed it again this past May, when Ed won his third pole and finished second in the race.

In all honesty, the results at ECR have been disappointing. The sporadic results show they have the potential to be a very good team, but something is missing – consistency. The No.20 has to deal with two different drivers, two different personalities and two different driving styles. It’s hard to develop chemistry among the team. And is the No.20 considered the number-one team? If so, they don’t set the bar very high for the No.21 team.

If his sponsors are happy with the status quo of the team, then I guess he can continue down this path for the foreseeable future. But the most content sponsors have a way of disappearing at the most inopportune times. Remember a couple of years ago when hhgregg signed on to sponsor Marco Andretti’s car? I think that deal lasted about one race before hhgregg declared bankruptcy.

When CEOs change, the attitude of an entire sponsorship can change. After twenty-seven years of being on at least one Chip Ganassi Racing car each year and many championship cars, Target left after the 2016 season? Why? Their marketing goals changed.

Sometimes change is mandated. For twenty seasons, Penske cars were adorned with the unmistakable Marlboro chevron. But after the 2009 season, the federal government stepped in and said “that’s it”.

ECR’s main sponsor is Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka, and has been for years. Who’s to say that the US government no longer allows hard-liquor advertising someday (and please don’t take this as an invitation to start a political discussion)? Can ECR run a two-car team on Preferred Freezer Services sponsorship? These loyal sponsors for ECR will eventually go away. When they do, the mediocre results of ECR could be a tough sell.

It’s not just sponsors that may be turned away. It’s tough to attract top talent to the No.20 car, when they know they will be ineligible to win the championship. If I was a brash young driver and had the non-oval offer from ECR and a full-time offer with the worst team in the paddock – I think I would still take the full-time deal. Rick Mears said a part-time deal with Roger Penske was better than a full-time deal with other teams. He was right, but ECR is not Team Penske.

I really envy Ed Carpenter being able to chart his own course and do what he wants to do. In a sense, he’s living the American Dream. If he can successfully juggle his dual roles of driver and car-owner – more power to him. I just hope that when he does decide to hang up his helmet for good, that he hasn’t sacrificed the future of his race team just to scratch the itch to drive five or six ovals for a few more years. By the time he regrets it, it may be too late. I hope I’m wrong.

George Phillips

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Posted in IndyCar on October 17, 2018 by Oilpressure

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What I’m going to say here won’t shock many people that are regular readers of this site or call themselves hard-core racing fans. I’m sort of preaching to the choir here, but that’s what we IndyCar fans do in the offseason when there is no racing going on – we talk about how superior our sport is to other sports.

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A Review: “Born Racer”

Posted in IndyCar on October 12, 2018 by Oilpressure

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In today’s world, this is considered very old news. Most of you know by now that Born Racer was released last week on Tuesday October 2. The website for the film says that it was to be released in theaters on that date, but other than the occasional IMAX Theater – I’m not sure how many theaters it actually has run in. Fortunately, it was released on DVD and digital that day as well.

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Honor The Andretti Family Next May

Posted in IndyCar on October 10, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Next year will be a year of commemorating major milestones. 1969 saw the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, witnessed man’s first steps on the surface of the moon (which I will always consider the greatest accomplishment in my lifetime) and Woodstock were some of the events that all took place in 1969.

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Somehow, This Needs To Happen

Posted in IndyCar on October 8, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Last Thursday, I had lunch with an old friend and former co-worker. It’s been about four years since we’ve worked together, as he has moved on to bigger and better things. He has been a life-long NASCAR fan, but in the time we worked together – I enlightened him on the virtues of IndyCar racing.

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The Never-Ending Search For Driving Talent

Posted in IndyCar on October 5, 2018 by Oilpressure

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For the last several seasons, we have seen the results of a strengthened ladder system come to fruition in the IndyCar Series. Recent graduates of the Road to Indy program have not only made their way into IndyCar, but they have found success. Josef Newgarden is the poster child for this recent trend. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2011 and was offered a fulltime ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for the 2012 season. We all know the story. After struggling as a rookie, Newgarden learned and made dramatic improvement each season. He caught the eye of Roger Penske and won the 2017 IndyCar championship in his first season with The Captain.

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A New Hurdle For IndyCar

Posted in IndyCar on October 3, 2018 by Oilpressure

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On Monday, fans of the IndyCar Series got what I personally interpreted as jarring news. IndyCar Chief Marketing Officer CJ O’Donnell is leaving the series effective at the end of the year. There were the obligatory nice statements from O’Donnell and CEO Mark Miles about his pending departure and the great things he had done – but even if this was a very friendly parting of the ways, it’s a huge blow to the series.

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